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Meet Mark Surman, advisor to the Data Collaboration Alliance

Updated: Mar 26

Mark is the Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, a global nonprofit that does everything from making Firefox to standing up for issues like online privacy. Mark is focused on fueling the broader internet health movement by working with citizens, technologists, and civic leaders around the world.

Tell us about yourself

I'm Mark Surman and I'm the Executive Director of Mozilla, and you may know Mozilla as the people who make Firefox. But we do a lot more than that. Mozilla has existed for over 15 years to make sure that the internet is open and accessible to all, and that means making sure the internet is something that serves all of us and not just a few companies that just happen to lead the tech industry.


What's your relationship with data?

Well, at this stage, my professional life and data are the same thing. But it's worth actually going back in history.


When Mozilla started in the late 90s and I wasn't there yet, the internet and the web were the computing environment at the time. Whatever happened with the web defined where things would go and Microsoft was vacuuming the web inside of Windows and it looked like it would just go down the path of a monopoly that one company would control.


And of course, what Firefox did was come in and help blow that up. We advanced web standards for the kind of technology that help lots of people create small web applications, but also fueled the growth of Amazon and Gmail and all those things. It really democratized and broke open the web as something that anybody could use to innovate.


But today, data is the computing environment, not JavaScript, and of course, we still use all those technologies. But what happens with data is going to be the thing that determines what's possible to do with digital things right now.


Similar to that place where we were 20 years ago, there's a few small companies who are setting the rules of the road on data and we think we need to rearchitect that.


We need something that puts people in control of their own data and lets people innovate, even if they don't have all the data they suck in from a search engine or a social network. And without a real change in how we actually architect data and the way we build things, we're not going to have something that serves humanity. We're not going to have innovation and I think about how we turn that around every day.

Why the Data Collaboration Alliance?

If we're going to move the tide, we're all gonna need to do that together. If we want to get away from centralized Big Tech and move to something where people have control, where developers have control, where we're not just putting everything all at one pile. But where we have networks of data, and it sounds very nerdy but that's actually what is going to shift things. Where we've got standards that mean anybody can innovate.


A lot of different players are going to have to come around the table and try different things, do pilot projects. So it feels like the Data Collaboration Alliance is an opportunity for people to get together and do that and hopefully it's a very diverse set of people from all parts of the World from lots of different industries. Because we're talking about rearchitecting the next wave of digital society, and we're gonna need a lot of people to pitch in.


Final thoughts?

The last thing I want to say is to invite people to visit datacollaboration.org and consider getting involved. We want to shift the direction of control in terms of our data and help things work differently. This is a good place to do it.

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